It feels like open floor plans are everywhere nowadays. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing every house hunter or flipper asking for “open concept living” and an open floor plan in their new home to accomplish it. Even in custom homes, buyers are looking for the promise of freedom and relaxation that is supposed to appear when we leave out the walls. But where did this “new” trend of open living spaces come from? Here’s a hint, it actually isn’t all that new.
In 1901, Ladies Home Journal published a home design by Frank Lloyd Wright that showed one of the earliest open plans. His “Prairie” style combined multiple rooms into an airy, flowing space, but still included a secluded kitchen, which attached directly to the servants quarters above. Over the years, his designs did away with more dividing elements, including the upstairs walls that partitioned servant and family quarters, and the butler’s pantry which divided the kitchen from the entertaining areas of the home.
The 1920s saw a general trend towards the combination of the kitchen and dining room, and by the 30s Wright was designing Usonian homes, single-level houses that had open configuration living space. Most of these shifts followed the social trend of moving away from having domestic help. They were designed to allow the mother-housewife to manage the work of the kitchen while also watching the kids, first in the yard and later playing inside in the newly popular “great room.” Later, in post-war time, this openness of the home also allowed a more efficient movement between domestic tasks and the freedom to socialize with family and guests. One could easily do both at the same time.
With such a long history, it is clear that open concept living space isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it also isn’t living up to all of its promises either. The truth is that kitchens that flow into dining rooms that flow into great rooms just mean that the person working in the kitchen is constantly doing double duty. It also means that the mess of prep and cooking and the dishes after the meal are an eyesore unless they are immediately cleaned up. The result is a new trend in second kitchens, this one out of sight. That way, the prep mess can be hidden away and the dishes can be put out of sight, leaving your showcase open kitchen pristine.
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